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Greenway to join 4,000-mile trail

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Cardinal Greenway is set to become part of a 4,000-mile multi-use trail which begins in Washington, D.C. and ends in Washington State.

Twelve trails have been announced as “gateways” to make up the fabric of the coast-to-coast trail known as the “Great American Rail-Trail.” The project was announced by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit which is built on the goal of turning unused railways into nature trails.

“At RTC, we’ve known the potential of a coast-to-coast rail-trail for decades,” said Keith Laughlin, RTC president in a prepared statement. “But before we committed to bringing this vision to life, we wanted to be certain it was viable. With open trails comprising more than 50 percent of the potential route, combined with strong local and state enthusiasm, we are now confident that the Great American Rail-Trail can be completed.”

The project is still in its early stages, but has recently been committed to after more than 18 months of analysis and collaboration with local trail partners and state agencies.

RTC analyzed the project’s viability through an assessment of route options, state and local trail plans and discussions with hundreds of local trail partners and state agencies.

In 2018 the Cardinal Greenway was voted into the 2018 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, which is also run by the RTC.

According to Angie Pool, chief executive officer of the Cardinal Greenway, she knew the RTC was considering adding the Greenway to the Great American Rail-Trail, but to actually be chosen was exciting. 

“There’s a lot of wonderful rail-trail systems all across the country," she said. 

Cathie Jo Childs, executive secretary of the Cardinal Greenway of Grant County, expects more people to visit the county via the Cardinal Greenway when the RTC trail is completed.

“We're already seeing some effort toward vacation destinations (centered around the Greenway),” Childs said. “Bicycle clubs ... make plans ahead of time to stay in certain hotels and eat at certain restaurants along the way.”

The Cardinal Greenway is the longest trail in Indiana. There is about 63 miles of the trail altogether, 13 miles of which run through Grant County, according to Childs.

The trail is separated from vehicle traffic and travelers of the Great American Rail-Trail will be able to traverse 12 states.

In addition to the Greenway, the trails which will act as “gateways” are the Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, the Panhandle Trail in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the Ohio to Erie Trail in Ohio, the Hennepin Canal Parkway in Illinois, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa, the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail in Nebraska, the Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming, the Headwaters Trail System in Montana, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho and the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in Washington.

According to Brandi Horton, vice president of communications at the RTC, the trail will take 15-20 years to complete.

“More than 50 percent is complete (right now),” Horton said. “Segments will come online all the time and we will continue to grow over the course of time.”

The full route for the trail will not be released until spring, 2019.

“The Great American Rail-Trail is a bold vision—one that will take years to complete,” Laughlin said. “The investment of time and resources necessary to complete this trail will be returned many times over as it takes its place among the country’s national treasures.”

Childs is excited the Greenway will be part of the Great American Rail-Trail.

“The whole idea of turning rails to trails is to connect communities and it's wonderful,” Childs said.

For more details about the Great American Rail-Trail, visit www.greatamericanrailtrail.org.